The Haunted Hills is an atmospheric story exploring childhood friendship, loss, grief and guilt set in a landscape that adds much to this multi-layered and thoughtful book.
When we meet Carl he and his parents have recently arrived at a lonely cottage in the Peak District and it soon becomes apparent to the reader that this is not a typical family holiday. Carl is recovering from a personal tragedy and his mum and dad have brought him away in the hope that a period away from home and the constant reminders will enable him to recover. However local stories of a ghostly local lad soon have an effect on Carl with the losses of the past quickly becoming entwined with his own loss and he becomes enveloped in his sadness and guilt. The reader accompanies this young boy as he struggles to learn how to cope.
I found this an emotional read as the characters had a relatable quality and a depth that increased my engagement with the story. As Carl deals with the aftermath of the death of his best friend, Jack, in an accident it is clear that this loss is also felt by Jack’s parents. Their primary concern however is the impact this tragedy has had on Carl and the attempts by them to help their troubled son are touching. As an adult reader I empathised with their desperation to make things better for him and their frustration at their own inadequacy to do so. April, the girl who works at the neighbouring farm, is an interesting and slightly elusive character yet she has an important role in Carl’s stay in the Peaks.
It is Berlie Doherty’s own knowledge and love of the local landscape and folklore that gives this story its greater depth. The brooding scenery around the cottage and the nearby farm, the stories of Joseph, the lost lad, and his dog, combine with Carl’s own sense of desolation to give this story a haunting and atmospheric air. The mist, the darkness and the rugged mountains perfectly fit the mood of the characters and their personal difficulties.
The Haunted Hills is a multilayered tale full of emotion. It is an exploration of grief and loss and its impact on our lives yet told with a touching understanding of human nature and our capacity both for healing and for resilience.
The Haunted Hills was published on 6th October by Uclan Publishing and I should like to thank the publishers for my advance proof copy. The finished copy has a stunning cover and artwork by Tamsin Rosewell.